The banner of Bharat Ek Khoj outside Doordarshan Kendra at Worli is proof that Shyam Benegal’s epic television series, even after more than 20 years, remains one of the best advertisements of Indian television of the yore, when DD defined television for India. A screen adaptation of Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India, it is one of the last achievements of the state-run channel that lost out to privatisation over the years. It was also Benegal’s last television project.
Now, however, Benegal will return to Indian television with Samvidhan, on yet another state-run channel, Rajya Sabha TV. A mini-series, it is, as its name suggests, based on the Indian Constitution.
“Many of us take the Constitution for granted, complain about it. There have been amendments but no major change. Instead, it has absorbed all the shocks and stood the test of time,” explains Benegal. “The only time it was under serious attack was in 1975 during Emergency. It’s a remarkable Constitution that takes into account the country’s different languages, ethnic groups, caste, class, and is a shining example of democracy,” he says.
Benegal’s socio-political interests have always defined his works, be it Ankur (1974) about the economic disparity and hypocrisy of a feudal system, the story of a revolutionary milk cooperative society in Manthan (1976) or the more recent satire set in rural India, Welcome to Sajjanpur (2008).
The idea of Samvidhan, however, came to him during his six-year tenure as a Member of Parliament when he got a chance to look at it closely. “I also realised that the two channels, Rajya Sabha TV and Lok Sabha TV, the states’ two voices, should represent the people of India. And as a subject, the contours of the Constitution is something that matter to all of us,” he says.
The project was taken forward after Benegal’s discussions with Vice President Hamid Ansari and other ministers. Funded by the state, it will be telecast on both Rajya Sabha TV and Lok Sabha TV, and is expected to be aired on Doordarshan too.
The show, with hour-long episodes, will be a historical enactment of the making of the Constitution, spanning 1946-1949. Prominent public and political personalities, such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Muhammad Ali Jinnah will be part of the storyline. Sachin Khedekar, who had played Subhash Chandra Bose in Benegal’s biopic on the freedom fighter, will be seen playing Ambedkar. While Neeraj Kabi,